DPS Honors Achievements and Bravery at February PSC Meeting

February 23, 2024
DPS Honors Achievements and Bravery at February  PSC Meeting

AUSTIN – The Texas Public Safety Commission (PSC), along with Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw, presented two William P. Clements Excellence Awards along with several Lifesaving Awards, a Director’s Award and one Unit Citation, at the PSC meeting on Thursday, Feb. 15, at the DPS Headquarters in Austin.

“These awards highlight the tremendous work that happens in so many divisions by so many incredible people at DPS each and every day,” said DPS Director Steven McCraw. “It’s important that we honor the innovation, leadership and commitment of those who dedicate their lives to serving the people of this great state.”

The William P. Clements Excellence Award is named in honor of the former governor and his commitment to excellence in government. The award honors a commissioned and non-commissioned employee for their exceptional performance of duties throughout the course of their DPS careers. Brenda Headrick, Texas Ranger Division—Northwest Austin, and Texas Ranger Juan Torrez, Texas Ranger Division—El Paso, each received a 2023 William P. Clements Excellence Award.

Brenda Headrick began her career with DPS in 1979 as a Clerk Typist I in the Traffic Law Enforcement Division. Throughout her career, she has gained extensive knowledge and experience within many areas, including the Uniform Crime Reporting Section, Narcotics Service and Fugitive Apprehension Unit. In 1998, Headrick began working in the Texas Ranger Division as an Administrative Assistant in the Northwest Austin office. She remains there to this day. Her duties are wide-ranging, extremely demanding and require constant focus. Assignments have exposed her to incredibly difficult situations and heartbreaking realities; however, she has always successfully maintained her composure and performed at extraordinary levels of competence. She exemplifies the greatest qualities and expectations of any public servant. Despite departmental changes, retirements and promotions throughout her career, she remains an instrument of continuity and is an invaluable member of the Texas Ranger team.

Texas Ranger Juan Torrez began his career with DPS in 1995. In 2003, he promoted to Highway Patrol Sergeant, and in 2008, he promoted to Sergeant in the Motor Vehicle Theft Service before transitioning to the Narcotics Service the following year. In 2013, Torrez promoted to Texas Ranger. Throughout his career, he has shown resilience and durability, displaying exemplary work within the Texas Rangers and playing a material part in the responses and investigations of several mass casualty shootings in Texas, including the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, the Walmart shooting in El Paso, a shooting spree in Midland/Odessa and the school shooting in Uvalde. Torrez’s reputation as a keen investigator who is willing to assist anyone is well-known, and agencies in his area of responsibility understand that he is a trustworthy, no-nonsense and devoted partner. Torrez devotes himself to demonstrating the very best of DPS’ reputation, and his examples of integrity, excellence, accountability and teamwork are outstanding. Additionally, he is a pillar of his community, serving as a judge in high school criminal justice competitions and speaking at schools as a means to mentor youth about the value and prestige of the law enforcement profession. Torrez also shares his stories and faith with church recovery groups to aid those suffering from chemical dependency, PTSD or other traumatic experiences.

In addition to the two William P. Clements Excellence Awards, several Lifesaving Awards, a Director’s Award and one Unit Citation were also awarded.

Trooper Diego Rodriguez, Texas Highway Patrol—Luling, received a Lifesaving Award for his decisive and professional response to a life-threatening situation on April 5, 2023. Trooper Rodriguez was assisting on a traffic stop outside of a local restaurant when a concerned citizen came out and told him that someone had passed out on the restroom floor and was barely breathing. As a certified EMT, Trooper Rodriguez responded and found a man lying on his back, exhibiting shallow respirations and pinpoint pupils. He determined the subject was most likely experiencing an opioid overdose. The subject was not alert and did not respond to any verbal or painful stimuli, so Trooper Rodriguez administered a dose of Narcan, which had a positive effect; however, the subject was still unresponsive. Trooper Rodriguez gave a second dose of Narcan, at which point the subject was able to open his eyes and verbally respond. EMS personnel arrived on the scene and transported the subject to a local medical center for additional treatment.

Technical Sergeant Joshua Kelly, Texas Highway Patrol—Port Lavaca; Technical Sergeant Michael Benitez, Texas Highway Patrol—Brownsville; Technical Sergeant Kenneth Haralson, Texas Highway Patrol—Texas City; Technical Sergeant Andrews Hernandez, Texas Highway Patrol—Rockport, each received Lifesaving Awards for their significant and professional response while performing river patrols on the Rio Grande River on Nov. 11, 2023. During patrol that day, they responded to assist with a large group of migrants crossing in dangerous waters. After rescuing several people, Sergeant Benitez observed an unresponsive subject who was not breathing and being carried by another person in the water. He approached the subjects and immediately pulled them onto the vessel and started first aid. Benitez began back strikes and sternum rubs, while Sergeant Hernandez notified EMS of the critical situation. Sergeant Kelly turned the vessel back to Shelby Park, while Benitez continued first aid to assist the subject with dislodging water from his system. As the vessel arrived at the boat ramp, the subject’s breathing had improved, but he was still unresponsive. Crewmembers carried the subject to a Conex box and covered him with heated blanket. Shortly thereafter, EMS personnel arrived and transported the subject to a local hospital for continued treatment.

Members of Tactical Marine Unit (TMU) Patrol Vessel 15 received a Lifesaving Award and several members of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) received a Director’s Award for their quick thinking and professional response to a life-threatening situation while deployed to the Texas/Mexico border in support of Operation Lone Star. On Nov. 19, 2023, while staged in anticipation of a surge of migrants, TMU Patrol Vessel 15 and FWC personnel encountered a large group of migrants halfway across the Rio Grande River. The group ignored all commands to turn back and continued advancing toward the patrol vessel, which was positioned downriver to be able to perform rescue operations as the swift current swept away the migrants. The TMU and FWC land units observed a larger group on the Mexico side of the river, and as the crew gave verbal and visual commands to turn back, one migrant jumped into the current in front of Vessel-15, causing it to have to maneuver around the subject to avoid striking him. As the vessel moved away, the group on the riverbank surged into the water. Patrol Vessel-15 went downriver and immediately began conducting rescue operations with support from a FWC airboat. Multiple migrants were hauled into the vessel and many more clung to the gunwales as the patrol vessel floated them to safety. The teams deployed all available life rings and personal flotation devices in order to help migrants struggling in the water. After unloading the migrants safely on the U.S. riverbank, crew members saw three small children floating downriver toward Patrol Vessel-15. As they got closer, the crew identified two boys and a girl clinging to an adult female who was submerged. They were able to bring them all onboard and begin performing lifesaving measures to the female subject who was not breathing and had no pulse. The crew administered chest compressions and contacted the command post to request EMS. The female eventually regained consciousness, and Patrol Vessel-15 returned to Shelby Park, where the female subject and children were released to EMS for further evaluation and care.

Sergeant Matthew Skorupka, Texas Highway Patrol—Port Lavaca, Staff Sergeant Jason Krueger, Texas Highway Patrol—Rockport, Staff Sergeant Roberto Lopez, Texas Highway Patrol—Zapata, Staff Sergeant Eric Najera, Texas Highway Patrol—Houston, Staff Sergeant Melinda Sarmiento, Texas Highway Patrol—Brownsville, Staff Sergeant Ernesto Torres, Texas Highway Patrol—Mission, Staff Sergeant Jason Bazan, Texas Highway Patrol—Brownsville, Staff Sergeant Trayton Golden, Texas Highway Patrol—Kingsville, Staff Sergeant Edward Herebia, Texas Highway Patrol—Weslaco and Technical Sergeant Joshua Kelly, Texas Highway Patrol—Port Lavaca, all received a Lifesaving Award for their actions.

FWC Captain Jose Escabi, Lieutenant Anthony Padilla, Investigators Rebecca Teems, Jon Arnold, and John Booth, and Officers Ben Norbrothen, Shelby Sellers, Emily Whitty, Alexander Bruder, Brandon Catalano and Robert Dziewiatkowski received the Director’s Award.

One Unit Citation was also given out during the awards ceremony.

Personnel from the Criminal Investigations Division’s (CID) Computer Information Technology and Electronic Crimes (CITEC) Unit were recognized for their tremendous work in a high-profile case involving stolen driver licenses (DL). From August 2022 to December 2022, approximately 3,900 fake online Texas by Texas (TxT) accounts were created using stolen identities and fraudulent credit cards. The suspects then used those accounts to have fraudulent, duplicate DLs sent to several addresses nationwide. DPS’ Driver License Division identified suspicious transactions via the Texas.gov interface, and an investigation began. Initially, just over 2,300 individual cardholders were impacted when fraudulent replacement DLs were ordered. Some of the same victims had multiple duplicate licenses ordered and sent to multiple states. The CITEC Unit, with the assistance of Intelligence and Counterterrorism (ICT) Analysts, worked with multiple federal and state agencies to investigate the security incident. Credit card information from victims in 36 different states was used in the duplicate purchase of licenses, including 402 victims of credit card abuse here in Texas. After reviewing approximately 1.5 million Texas DL records, CITEC personnel identified approximately 5,100 victims of fraud. Through analytical support, CITEC personnel identified a suspect who obtained approximately 1,200 Texas DLs that were sent to an address in Oklahoma. This same suspect had previously used several New York mailing addresses and was a suspect in an ongoing Homeland Security investigation regarding laundering large sums of money to Hong Kong.

CITEC Special Agents, along with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), conducted a joint operation that resulted in the simultaneous execution of search warrants at three residences in Oklahoma. Multiple pieces of evidence related to fraud were recovered, including two computers and six cellphones. CITEC Digital Forensic Analysts assisted with extracting and analyzing the seized devices. The analysis provided information used to locate the suspects through their social media accounts. Additionally, CITEC personnel conducted a joint mail hold and controlled delivery in New York City and a mail cover operation in Georgia. CITEC Agents were able to identify and locate multiple suspects with the help of ICT analysts who located social media accounts and utilized the Texas Fusion Center to generate further investigative leads.

CITEC personnel have been assisting other states in conducting successful complex DL fraud investigations within their respective jurisdictions. These personnel have coordinated and shared information with law enforcement agencies in 13 states, as well as Canada. CITEC is also providing forensic analysis and additional support to HSI in the furtherance of an ongoing organized criminal enterprise investigation.

Those commended for their hard work and dedication include CID Captains Steven Stone and Janet Nichols; Lieutenants Gerald Rogers and Bryan Moczygemba; Special Agents Nicholas Nesbitt, Erich Neumann, Seth Fry, Oscar Camarillo, Craig Swantner and Michael Boyett; Digital Forensic Analysts Amber Rice, Alex Bundy and Arissa Hendershot; and ICT Analysts Audrey Tepe, Rebecca Bohnert and Jewelia Tapp.

Please join us in congratulating all of our award recipients. Photos are available on the DPS Facebook page.


(HQ 2024-009)